RCC Off to Testy Start

RCC Off to Testy Start

Lingering resentment over preference poll bubbles over.

The honeymoon is over for the newly installed Reston Community Center (RCC) board of governors, and it lasted less than 10 minutes.

Two new members, Joseph Lombardo and Carl Levine, and several angry residents upbraided the incumbent members of the board at its Nov. 3 full board meeting — the first meeting with the three recently elected board members. Lombardo, Levine and others were upset about comments made last month during two separate RCC subcommittee meetings which detailed alleged voting irregularities that some old members said they saw at several polling places during the Oct. 18 preference poll. The result of those two meetings, and an ensuing article in last week's Reston Connection detailing member comments made during the Oct. 27 preference poll committee meeting, added fuel to Lombardo and Levine's irritation on a night that typically honors outgoing members and welcomes new ones.

Instead, the good-feeling glow from the tributes to outgoing board members Marion Bonhomme-Knox and Jan Bradshaw was quickly overshadowed by member arguments and pointed resident discontent. Just minutes into the nearly three-hour long Monday night meeting, new members Lombardo and Levine made it clear they were not going to sit back and quietly ease into their new roles. By the end of the meeting, existing board members were being saddled with charges of "slander" while some new members accused old members of being "unfair and biased."

THE BICKERING BEGAN when Lombardo objected to the board's discussion of the minutes from the Oct. 20 community relations committee, a normally pro forma "old business" discussion. Lombardo, whose term officially began Nov. 1, said the community relations committee had discussed issues that were "not pertinent" to its explicit charge as a committee and therefore the report should not be added to the public record. According to the minutes, the main topic discussed was the RCC preference poll and perceived "irregularities" that members either had seen or heard about during the Oct. 18 preference poll. "Point of order, I object to the receipt of this report," Lombardo said. "They were not reporting on matters particular to its purview."

Presiding over her last meeting as board chair, Ruth Overton told Lombardo that his objection would have been more appropriate at the actual subcommittee meeting. "This is merely an individual's account of what was discussed at the meeting," Overton said.

Board member Fred Greenwald agreed with Overton. "We had the community relations committee meeting. The public has a right to know what was discussed there," Greenwald said. "The proper place to object was at the committee meetings. It's too late."

Despite Lombardo and Levine's arguments, Overton ruled that the minutes could be read into the record. After heated discussion, the minutes were approved by a 6-2 vote, with Lombardo and Levine voting against it.

Board member Mariana Tafur read the minutes which included a discussion of "several irregularities by candidates and supporters" during the Oct. 18 preference poll. Tafur said the committee discussed "specific incidents" at four separate polling locations and mentioned that the board would be drafting a letter to the League of Women Voters with a list of their grievances.

With the minutes made public, Lombardo immediately took issue with some of the contents. While acknowledging that supporters of candidates, on all sides, may have accompanied voters into the tent, as was alleged, Lombardo objected to the inference that every supporter who did so was "advocating for particular candidates." "How one would know what they were doing is beyond me?" asked Lombardo.

BOARD MEMBER John Lovaas, who actively campaigned for a slate that ran against Lombardo and Levine, indicated he was comfortable with the language in the minutes. "What do you suppose they were doing?" Lovaas asked Lombardo.

Lombardo said that some people at Lake Anne served as interpreters. Last week, Lombardo told the Reston Connection that his wife helped some Spanish-speaking voters read the ballot, but he said she made sure not to advocate for any slate of candidates. "This is casting aspersions on reputations of people who many not have done anything wrong," Lombardo said. "It is one thing to cite the irregularities, it's quite another to attribute them to individuals ... I'm concerned about the innuendo being placed on upstanding members of this community."

Levine added that he knew of one of the League of Women Voters volunteers who was speaking in negative terms about some of the candidates.

Lombardo said the committee's "failure" to discuss other violations, including some by incumbent members of the board, reflected a bias in the meeting's minutes and within the committee.

Greenwald pointed out that the minutes did not specifically name any individuals. To which Lombardo pointed to a story on the Oct. 27 preference poll meeting in the Oct. 29 edition of the Reston Connection in which members of the preference poll committee publicly named three individuals, including Lombardo's wife, skate park opponent Robert Goudie and Linda Mallison, the past chairman of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce. "People were slandered by members of this board," Lombardo said, adding that the board should discuss ways to discipline members who "violate basic decorum" in the future.

The debate regarding conduct of some board members continued later when the minutes from the Oct. 27 preference poll committee, which contained similar accusations, were officially debated. Lombardo said the polling places were not all "clearly marked" and he requested that language be softened to read, "alleged irregularities."

This time it was Lovaas' turn to object. "I was there, I saw them with my own eyes," he said. "If somebody accompanies someone into a voting booth, what do you think they were doing?"

Lovaas and new member Bill Bouie agreed that the focus should be on "corrective action." A letter by Kern will be sent to the League of Women Voters, Kern confirmed.

Ruth reminded the group that nobody was contesting the election. "We just need to move on," she said.

WHILE HEATED, the debates between board members was, for the most part, civil. The fireworks really began when residents of Small Tax District 5 were allowed to address the board. West Market resident Robert Goudie took the board to task for their comments from the preference poll committee that ended up in last week's Reston Connection. Everone in the community deserves "balance and fairness" from its RCC board members, Goudie argued.

"We got neither," he said. "Tonight, Fred and Mariana made a point to say they [the board was] not pointing fingers but last week with the media present, they slandered people."

Calling it "biased and prejudicial," Goudie objected to the letter that was going to be sent to the League of Women Voters.

Deborah Finkel agreed, saying that the committees had shown a "clear bias" in their discussions about voting irregularities.

Goudie complained that there had been no examples of alleged violations by slates other than the Lombardo-Levine-Williams slate, the slate for which he openly campaigned. "No one called me and asked me about the violations I witnessed," Goudie said. "At North Point, there was a rep from the ABC group in the tent."

Goudie said that when stories of irregularities began to surface, RCC should have held a public hearing to allow all members of the community a chance to speak.

Goudie, who was called out by name during the Oct. 27 preference poll committee for distributing candidate literature inside a 40-foot perimeter at the Lake Anne polling site, said that he was standing side-by-side with Dino Salin and Jan Bradshaw, two incumbent candidates in the poll. "For one and a half hours, nobody said 'boo,'" Goudie said. "We were doing no different than they were."

That was news to former member Bradshaw who watched Goudie's speech on television. Bradshaw, who lost in last month's poll, said she never set foot near the Lake Anne facility on Oct. 18. She says that when Goudie arrived at Hunters Woods, they only made eye contact, but did not "stand side-by-side." "I nearly fell to the floor," Bradshaw said. "I was at Hunters Woods all day. That would have been quite a feat. I made sure to stay well clear of the tent."

An outspoken opponent of the proposed Reston skate park at the YMCA and a member of special RCC governance panel, Goudie said he knows that there will be times when he and the board disagree. "That's OK," he said. "But you have to try and be open, fair and balanced. I don't think we got that from these two committees."

On Tuesday, Goudie added that the RCC committees unfairly "singled out" supporters of the Levine-Lombardo-Williams slate, actions, he said, were "unbecoming the board."

"The RCC took what was essentially a biased ABC gripe session about the election results and turned it into official board policy," Goudie wrote in an email after Monday's meeting. "To have used official RCC meetings and resolutions for blatantly partisan purposes, with no effort to be balanced about what really happened, denigrates the integrity of the board."

Noting the preference poll's abysmal voter turnout numbers in the last five years, Steve Hagan said the debate over "alleged irregularities" was obscuring a more important issue: increasing voter turn-out. "Where is the discussion about how to get people to vote? We really should be addressing that rather than squabbling about those that did show up and vote."